Peter Brown (historian)

Peter Brown (historian)

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Peter Robert Lamont Brown (born 1935) is Rollins Professor of History at Princeton University. His principal contributions to the discipline have been in the field of late antiquity
Late Antiquity
Late Antiquity is a periodization used by historians to describe the time of transition from Classical Antiquity to the Middle Ages, in both mainland Europe and the Mediterranean world. Precise boundaries for the period are a matter of debate, but noted historian of the period Peter Brown proposed...

 and, in particular, the religious culture of the later Roman Empire and early medieval Europe.

Life


Peter Brown was born in Dublin, Ireland
Ireland
Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth...

, to an Anglo-Irish Protestant family. He was educated at Aravon School, the oldest preparatory school in Ireland and one of its most distinguished, and then at Shrewsbury School
Shrewsbury School
Shrewsbury School is a co-educational independent school for pupils aged 13 to 18, founded by Royal Charter in 1552. The present campus to which the school moved in 1882 is located on the banks of the River Severn in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England...

 in Shropshire, one of the great "public" schools in England. From 1953 to 1956, he read Modern History at New College
New College, Oxford
New College is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom.- Overview :The College's official name, College of St Mary, is the same as that of the older Oriel College; hence, it has been referred to as the "New College of St Mary", and is now almost always...

, Oxford. His potential was recognized by the award of the Harmsworth Senior Scholarship at Merton College, Oxford, and a seven-year Prize Fellowship at All Souls College, Oxford.

Following his graduation Brown began, but did not complete, a doctoral thesis under the external supervision of Arnaldo Momigliano
Arnaldo Momigliano
Arnaldo Dante Momigliano KBE was an Italian historian known for his work in historiography, characterized by Donald Kagan as the "world’s leading student of the writing of history in the ancient world." He became Professor of Roman history at the University of Turin in 1936, but as a Jew soon lost...

 (at that time Professor of Ancient History at University College London
University College London
University College London is a public research university located in London, United Kingdom and the oldest and largest constituent college of the federal University of London...

). All Souls College subsequently elected him a Research Fellow in 1963 and a Senior Research Fellow in 1970. The Modern History Faculty of the University of Oxford
University of Oxford
The University of Oxford is a university located in Oxford, United Kingdom. It is the second-oldest surviving university in the world and the oldest in the English-speaking world. Although its exact date of foundation is unclear, there is evidence of teaching as far back as 1096...

 appointed him a Special Lecturer in 1966 and a Reader (ad hominem) in 1973. He was elected a Fellow of the British Academy
British Academy
The British Academy is the United Kingdom's national body for the humanities and the social sciences. Its purpose is to inspire, recognise and support excellence in the humanities and social sciences, throughout the UK and internationally, and to champion their role and value.It receives an annual...

 in 1971. Brown left Oxford to become Professor of Modern History and Head of the Department of History at Royal Holloway College in the University of London
University of London
-20th century:Shortly after 6 Burlington Gardens was vacated, the University went through a period of rapid expansion. Bedford College, Royal Holloway and the London School of Economics all joined in 1900, Regent's Park College, which had affiliated in 1841 became an official divinity school of the...

 (1975-8), and subsequently left Britain to become Professor of Classics and History in the University of California at Berkeley (1978-86) and, since 1986, Philip and Beulah Rollins Professor of History at Princeton University
Princeton University
Princeton University is a private research university located in Princeton, New Jersey, United States. The school is one of the eight universities of the Ivy League, and is one of the nine Colonial Colleges founded before the American Revolution....

. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
American Academy of Arts and Sciences
The American Academy of Arts and Sciences is an independent policy research center that conducts multidisciplinary studies of complex and emerging problems. The Academy’s elected members are leaders in the academic disciplines, the arts, business, and public affairs.James Bowdoin, John Adams, and...

 in 1979 and a Resident Member of the American Philosophical Society
American Philosophical Society
The American Philosophical Society, founded in 1743, and located in Philadelphia, Pa., is an eminent scholarly organization of international reputation, that promotes useful knowledge in the sciences and humanities through excellence in scholarly research, professional meetings, publications,...

 in 1995. Following his earlier books, he has received some prestigious and substantial research grants, including the MacArthur Fellowship
MacArthur Foundation
The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation is one of the largest private foundations in the United States. Based in Chicago but supporting non-profit organizations that work in 60 countries, MacArthur has awarded more than US$4 billion since its inception in 1978...

 in 1982 and the Distinguished Achievement Award for scholars in the humanities from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation of New York City and Princeton, New Jersey in the United States, is a private foundation with five core areas of interest, endowed with wealth accumulated by the late Andrew W. Mellon of the Mellon family of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It is the product of the 1969...

 in 2001. In 1997, he delivered the Sigmund H Danziger Jr Memorial Lecture at the University of Chicago
University of Chicago
The University of Chicago is a private research university in Chicago, Illinois, USA. It was founded by the American Baptist Education Society with a donation from oil magnate and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller and incorporated in 1890...

. In 2003, he delivered the Charles Homer Haskins Lecture ("A Life of Learning") for the American Council of Learned Societies
American Council of Learned Societies
The American Council of Learned Societies , founded in 1919, is a private nonprofit federation of seventy scholarly organizations.ACLS is best known as a funder of humanities research through fellowships and grants awards. ACLS Fellowships are designed to permit scholars holding the Ph.D...

.

Honours


Brown has received a large number of honorary degrees. From outside the USA, he has received honorary doctorates from the University of Fribourg, Switzerland (1974), Trinity College Dublin (1990), the University of Pisa
University of Pisa
The University of Pisa , located in Pisa, Tuscany, is one of the oldest universities in Italy. It was formally founded on September 3, 1343 by an edict of Pope Clement VI, although there had been lectures on law in Pisa since the 11th century...

 (2001), Cambridge
University of Cambridge
The University of Cambridge is a public research university located in Cambridge, United Kingdom. It is the second-oldest university in both the United Kingdom and the English-speaking world , and the seventh-oldest globally...

 (2004), the Central European University
Central European University
For other uses, see European University Central European University is a graduate-level, English-language university offering degrees in the social sciences, humanities, law, public policy, business management, environmental science, and mathematics...

 in Budapest (2005), Oxford
University of Oxford
The University of Oxford is a university located in Oxford, United Kingdom. It is the second-oldest surviving university in the world and the oldest in the English-speaking world. Although its exact date of foundation is unclear, there is evidence of teaching as far back as 1096...

 (2006), Kings College London (2008) and The Hebrew University of Jerusalem (2010). His US honorary doctorates include the University of Chicago
University of Chicago
The University of Chicago is a private research university in Chicago, Illinois, USA. It was founded by the American Baptist Education Society with a donation from oil magnate and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller and incorporated in 1890...

 (1978), Wesleyan University
Wesleyan University
Wesleyan University is a private liberal arts college founded in 1831 and located in Middletown, Connecticut. According to the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, Wesleyan is the only Baccalaureate College in the nation that emphasizes undergraduate instruction in the arts and...

 (1993), Tulane (1994), Columbia University
Columbia University
Columbia University in the City of New York is a private, Ivy League university in Manhattan, New York City. Columbia is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York, the fifth oldest in the United States, and one of the country's nine Colonial Colleges founded before the...

 (2001), Harvard University
Harvard University
Harvard University is a private Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, established in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and the first corporation chartered in the country...

 (2002), Southern Methodist University
Southern Methodist University
Southern Methodist University is a private university in Dallas, Texas, United States. Founded in 1911 by the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, SMU operates campuses in Dallas, Plano, and Taos, New Mexico. SMU is owned by the South Central Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church...

 (2004), Yale University
Yale University
Yale University is a private, Ivy League university located in New Haven, Connecticut, United States. Founded in 1701 in the Colony of Connecticut, the university is the third-oldest institution of higher education in the United States...

 (2006), Notre Dame University (2008) and Amherst College
Amherst College
Amherst College is a private liberal arts college located in Amherst, Massachusetts, United States. Amherst is an exclusively undergraduate four-year institution and enrolled 1,744 students in the fall of 2009...

 (2009). He is an Honorary Fellow of Royal Holloway College, University of London, and of New College, Oxford. He is also a winner of the Heineken Prize for History from the Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (1994), the Ausonius Prize for Ancient History from the University of Trier (1999) and the Premio Anaxilao from the Municipality of Reggio di Calabria (1999). In 2008 he was the co-winner, with Indian historian Romila Thapar
Romila Thapar
Romila Thapar is an Indian historian whose principal area of study is ancient India.-Work:After graduating from Panjab University, Thapar earned her doctorate under A. L. Basham at the School of Oriental and African Studies, the University of London in 1958...

, of the prestigious Kluge Prize
Kluge Prize
The John W. Kluge Prize for the Study of Humanity is awarded for lifetime achievement in the humanistic and social sciences to celebrate the importance of the Intellectual Arts for the public interest.-Overview:...

 for Lifetime Achievement in the Study of Humanity. He is a Foreign Member of the Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, a Corresponding Member of the Royal Academy of Letters in Barcelona, an Honorary Fellow of the Italian Association for the Study of Sanctity, Cults and Hagiography, and an Honorary Member of the Royal Irish Academy. He is a Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters in France.

In 2011 Brown was awarded the Balzan Prize
Balzan Prize
The International Balzan Prize Foundation awards four annual monetary prizes to people or organisations who have made outstanding achievements in the fields of humanities, natural sciences, culture, as well as for endeavours for peace and the brotherhood of man.-Rewards and assets:Each year the...

 for his works on the graeco-roman antiquity.

Works


Brown, who reads at least fifteen languages, established himself at the age of 32 with his biography of Augustine of Hippo
Augustine of Hippo
Augustine of Hippo , also known as Augustine, St. Augustine, St. Austin, St. Augoustinos, Blessed Augustine, or St. Augustine the Blessed, was Bishop of Hippo Regius . He was a Latin-speaking philosopher and theologian who lived in the Roman Africa Province...

. A steady stream of books and articles has since appeared, and currently, Brown is arguably the most prominent historian of late antiquity
Late Antiquity
Late Antiquity is a periodization used by historians to describe the time of transition from Classical Antiquity to the Middle Ages, in both mainland Europe and the Mediterranean world. Precise boundaries for the period are a matter of debate, but noted historian of the period Peter Brown proposed...

. Brown has been instrumental in popularizing late antiquity, the figure of the "holy man" and the study of the cult of the saints.

In his book The World of Late Antiquity (1971), he put forward a new interpretation of the period between the third and eighth centuries CE. The traditional interpretation of this period was centered around the idea of decadence from a 'golden age', classical civilization, after the famous work of Edward Gibbon
Edward Gibbon
Edward Gibbon was an English historian and Member of Parliament...

 The History Of The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire
The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is a non-fiction history book written by English historian Edward Gibbon and published in six volumes. Volume I was published in 1776, and went through six printings. Volumes II and III were published in 1781; volumes IV, V, VI in 1788–89...

(1779). On the contrary, Brown proposed to look at this period in positive terms, arguing that Late Antiquity was a period of immense cultural innovation.

Brown was influenced in his early works by the French Annales School
Annales School
The Annales School is a group of historians associated with a style of historiography developed by French historians in the 20th century. It is named after its scholarly journal Annales d'histoire économique et sociale, which remains the main source of scholarship, along with many books and...

, and specifically the figure of Fernand Braudel
Fernand Braudel
Fernand Braudel was a French historian and a leader of the Annales School. His scholarship focused on three main projects, each representing several decades of intense study: The Mediterranean , Civilization and Capitalism , and the unfinished Identity of France...

. Following this school, Brown analyzed culture and religion as social phenomena and as part of a wider context of historical change and transformation. The Annales influence in Brown's work can also be seen in his reliance on anthropology
Anthropology
Anthropology is the study of humanity. It has origins in the humanities, the natural sciences, and the social sciences. The term "anthropology" is from the Greek anthrōpos , "man", understood to mean mankind or humanity, and -logia , "discourse" or "study", and was first used in 1501 by German...

 and sociology
Sociology
Sociology is the study of society. It is a social science—a term with which it is sometimes synonymous—which uses various methods of empirical investigation and critical analysis to develop a body of knowledge about human social activity...

 as interpretative tools for historical analysis. Specifically, Brown received the influence of contemporary Anglo-American anthropology.

His research has been devoted chiefly to religious transformation in the late Roman world. His most celebrated early contribution on this subject concerned the figure of the 'holy man'. According to Brown, the charismatic, Christian ascetics (holy men) were particularly prominent in the late Roman empire and the early Byzantine world as mediators between local communities and the divine. This relationship expressed the importance of patronage in the Roman social system, which was taken over by the Christian ascetics. But more importantly, Brown argues, the rise of the holy man was the result of a deeper religious change that affected not only Christianity but also other religions of the late antique period - namely the needs for a more personal access to the divine.

His views slightly shifted in the eighties. In articles and new editions Brown said that his earlier work, which had deconstructed many of the religious aspects of his field of study, needed to be reassessed. His later work shows a deeper appreciation for the specifically Christian layers of his subjects of study. His book The Body and Society (1988) offered an innovative approach to the study of early Christian practices, showing the influence of Pierre Hadot
Pierre Hadot
Pierre Hadot was a French philosopher and historian of philosophy specializing in ancient philosophy, particularly Neoplatonism. Hadot was ordained in 1944 but following Pope Pius XII's Encyclical "Humani Generis" left the priesthood...

 and Michel Foucault
Michel Foucault
Michel Foucault , born Paul-Michel Foucault , was a French philosopher, social theorist and historian of ideas...

's work on the history of sexuality.

His current research focuses on wealth and poverty in late antiquity, especially in Christian writers.

Selected bibliography

  • Augustine of Hippo: A Biography (1967/2000) – ISBN 0-520-22757-3
  • "The Rise and Function of the Holy Man in Late Antiquity", The Journal of Roman Studies, 61 (1971): 80-101.
  • The World of Late Antiquity: AD 150–750 (1971/1989) – ISBN 0-393-95803-5
  • The Making of Late Antiquity (1978) – ISBN 0-674-54321-1
  • The Cult of the Saints: Its Rise and Function in Latin Christianity (1981) – ISBN 0-226-07622-9
  • Society & the Holy in Late Antiquity (1982) – ISBN 978-0-520-06800-1
  • "Late Antiquity" ([1985] 1987) in Paul Veyne, ed. A History of Private Life: 1. From Pagan Rome to Byzantium.
  • The Body and Society: Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity (1988) – ISBN 0-231-06101-3
  • Power and Persuasion: Towards a Christian Empire (1992)
  • Authority and the Sacred: Aspects of the Christianisation of the Roman world (1995) – ISBN 0-521-49904-6
  • The Rise of Western Christendom (1996/2003) – ISBN 0-631-22138-7
  • Chapters 21 & 22 in The Cambridge Ancient History, Volume XIII, The Late Empire, A.D. 337–425 (1998) – ISBN 0-521-30200-5
  • Poverty and Leadership in the Later Roman Empire (2002)
  • "A Life of Learning" (ACLS, 2003) online edition, autobiographical

External links